Judge sets aside portion of verdict in sexual misconduct suit

By Lawrence Smith | Feb 1, 2013

CHARLESTON – Finding that one of its home confinement officers had adequate training and knew the boundaries of acceptable behavior, a judge has set aside the portion of a jury’s verdict returned against Logan County officials in a woman’s civil rights suit.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver on Jan. 16 relieved the Logan County Commission of having to pay April Tomblin Chafin $125,000 in the suit she filed two years ago against it, the Logan County Home Confinement Department and Officer John Reed.

Following a two-day trial, a jury found as credible Chafin’s claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Reed for the multiple times he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex on him while under his supervision in 2009.

Also, the jury determined Chafin proved her case that both the Commission and LCHCD negligently trained Reed. It ordered the Commission and Reed to each pay Chafin $125,000 in compensatory damages, plus Reed an additional $25,000 in punitive damages.

However, Copenhaver said testimony given during the trial shows the commission should be absolved of liability. In his 22-page order, Copenhaver made reference to several times during the trial where Reed admitted he was made aware of and acknowledged restrictions on officers being alone with people they are supervising of the opposite sex.

“It thus seems undisputed that Mr. Reed at least understood certain gender-appropriate policies governing his supervision activities,” Copenhaver said.

“Mr. Reed testified to his understanding that he was prohibited from engaging in the sexual abuse of supervisees that the jury found to have occurred. If common sense did not inform him of that boundary line, the Logan County training process did so as a matter of law.”

In his order, Copenhaver also denied a motion made by Reed’s attorney, Billie Jo Streyle, to set-aside the verdict against him. After rendering his decision, Copenhaver then entered judgment against Reed for $150,000.

Chafin, who was eventually sentenced to Lakin Correctional Center for attempted first degree robbery and has since been released, was represented by Huntington attorneys Kerry A. Nessel and Timothy P. Rosinsky. The commission and LCHCD were represented by Jennifer E. Tully and Traci L. Wiley with Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe.

Former Logan County Sheriff Eddie Hunter, and the Sheriff’s Office were initially co-defendants in the suit. They were voluntarily dismissed in June.

In West Virginia, the county commissions and sheriffs share responsibility in supervising the home confinement departments.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, case number 11-cv-34

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